Legionella bacteria found at Playboy Mansion after illnesses

Source: Reuters, March 2, 2011
By: Dan Whitcomb

Health officials investigating a respiratory illness that infected some 200 people after a party at the Playboy Mansion said on Tuesday they had found the bacteria that causes Legionnaires disease in a water source there.

But the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said it was still unclear if the Legionella bacteria, commonly found in wet environments, were responsible for the outbreak of infection.

“We are still considering several possible causes of illness,” Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the department’s director, said in a written statement.

The health department said that about 200 people reported becoming sick with fever, chills, coughs and general malaise after a social event at the Playboy Mansion on the last day of the DOMAINfest internet investment conference in February.

“In the course of its ongoing investigation, Public Health has identified Legionella bacteria in a sample taken from a water source at the Playboy Mansion,” the department said in the statement.

“Public Health is continuing to work with surrounding county health departments, the California Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate this suspected outbreak.”

A spokesman for the department declined to comment further and it was unclear if any of the partygoers were hospitalized.

In a statement on its Web site, DOMAINfest organizers said they had been assisting the health officials in their investigation.

“We are encouraged to hear further reports that more and more people who have been sick with the mysterious illness are feeling better,” DOMAINfest said in the statement.

“For those of you still feeling ill, please seek the advice of a doctor and we sincerely wish you a speedy recovery.”

Representatives for Playboy Enterprises had no immediate comment on the discovery of Legionella bacteria at the mansion. A spokeswoman has said previously that Playboy was cooperating with the Department of Public Health in its investigation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires disease or a milder infection known as Pontiac Fever.

Between 8,000 and 18,800 people are hospitalized in the U.S. each year with Legionnaires disease, which takes its name from a 1976 outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia.

The CDC said on its web site that Legionnaires disease can cause death in up to 30 percent of cases, but that otherwise healthy people usually recover with the aid of antibiotics.

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